Genetically Modified Foods (GMF) Endagering or Enriching?
By Stephen C. Y. Liu
In 2000, the Hsin-Chow Daily News and Chinese Community Research Centre, working with Malaysia Bible Seminary, sponsored a city-wide forum entitled “Genetically Modified Foods (GMF): Endangering or Enriching?” Why was there such an intensive interest in GMF? Advocates against GMF worldwide had created a great deal of suspicion and fear. Somehow, modernization in recent years had been linked to Christianization. People at the forum were interested in how we Christians, especially university scientists, consider GMF and genetic engineering. Are scientists playing God? Are GMF endangering our health? Or are GMF used for the capitalists making more money, exploiting the poor third world? What are your Christian perspectives? With research-teaching experience at a state university, I shall endeavor to answer these questions, using micarobial insecticide as an example of GMF.
A. Are scientists playing God?
The answer is no if we are talking about creation of a new organism. Creation of life is an exclusive act of God. With the latest DNA technology scientists can identify a gene, slice it
out, then insert it into a genome of the same variety or different variety plant. As a result, a plant with an acquired new genetic trait or traits is produced. The expression of that inserted gene in the genome will be a polypeptide or a protein. Scientists are not creating new organismal life. They are working with existing biological living materials which are genetically manipulated. If they succeed, they produce a new variety of that organism, plant, or animal. In essence, this is what molecular biologists have been doing with GMF (with farm crops).
B. Should Christian engage insuch activities?
Yes, we see no violation of Christian work ethics. In the creation narratives of Genesis 1 and 2, God’s mandate given are 1) to reproduce and thereby fill the land, 2) to rule over the land as God’s representatives, and 3) to care for what is ruled over on behalf of the Lord. The mandate covers both quantitative and qualitative aspects in the biological world. With rational scientific research, stewards not only work to bring benefits to humanity, but also work to bring glory to
God. Genetic modification used properly and adequately therefore could further the fulfillment
of God’s mandate.
C. Are GMF poisonous to insects while harmless to humans, or are GMF endangering
No, not necessarily so. Years ago, scientists succeeded in identifying a gene in a bacterium (Bacillus thurengiensis, Bt). The gene products are two or more types of toxins toxic specifically to insect pests of farm crops. The toxins are proteinaceous, being highly selective in their effect. The Bt gene was sliced and inserted into cultivated crops, such as corn, cotton, soybeans, sorghum, wheat, and even rice. With the Bt incorporated into the genomes, the farm plants became resistant to the insect pests, expelling or killing them. Microbial insecticide is the
name. As reported by scientific journals, in 1999 alone, they reduced 2.7 million tons of chemical insecticides. At the same time, they increased the yield of farm products by 10 to 30% in certain crops. Consequently, land use is much more economic, and farmers save time and money using such seeds.
With biotechnology, scientists have been working to have less saturated fat content in canola oil; to insert petunia genes into tomatoes for more flavonoids; and to transfer yeast genes to tomatoes for more lycopene. Before such seeds of genetically modified plants are released, experiments on both animals and eventually human volunteers should be conducted. The only remotely possible ill -effect on humans is the inducing of a food allergy.
D. More GMF for more foods and less profit:
Though Bt is not the first case of gene insertion into farm products, it is well known. Nowadays, there are many kinds of genetically modified farming crops, and their products are available in the markets. The common man as well as UN-FAO experts worry, in view of growing population in the world and hunger in under-developed regions, that not enough foods are being produced and that the foods being produced are not highly nutritious. The biotechnology of genetically modified farm crops offers a scientific means to achieve these objectives. Evangelical Christians should support their research endeavors and welcome such products for they, as stewards of the earth, are to rule over the land wisely on behalf of God. Biotech firms should make technology available to others, reduce their contractual control over seed harvest, and lower their prices. Governments in the third world should not restrict the import of such seeds/products; instead they should welcome the technologyfor eventual implementation.